To disinfect something is to render it free from pathogenic organisms or to make them inert. That is, to kill the germs and bacteria or to render them harmless. According to the British Standard Glossary of Terms Relating to Disinfectants (BS 5283 : 1976) the term disinfectant is applied to an agent which destroys micro-organisms, but not usually bacterial spores; it does not necessarily kill all micro-organisms, but reduces them to a level which is not harmful to the quality of perishable goods. Phenolic disinfectants play a major role in the history of antibacterial agents.
First introduced to the medical community by Joseph Lister in 1867, phenols continue to be the best weapon against the spread of infectious disease. With heightened concerns regarding blood borne pathogens and antibiotic resistant bacteria, the role of phenolic disinfectants has become essential.